What San Antonio Must Do Between Now and Start of the NBA Playoffs

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What San Antonio Must Do Between Now and Start of the NBA Playoffs
Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports
Tony Parker and Gregg Popovich will both be making adjustments as the season winds down.

From protecting their bodies to getting the right bodies on the court, the San Antonio Spurs must do a few things to prepare for another playoff run.

The 2013-14 NBA season has certainly been a roller coaster for Gregg Popovich and Co., as they've had to watch key players succumb to injuries—often at the same time.

But as the hobbled Spurs return from their respective absences, San Antonio finds itself closing in on another 50-win campaign while working the key components back into the rotation.

Will Pop's selected lineups be perfect enough to overpower a loaded Western Conference come May? Though that question won't be answered for a while, watching a completely healthy San Antonio team down the stretch provides a glimpse of what NBA fans will see throughout the postseason.

 

Get Healthy, Stay Healthy

Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports
Should OKC and San Antonio square off, the Spurs will be relying on Kawhi Leonard to contain Kevin Durant. But Leonard can't do that if he is sidelined.

Injuries have plagued the Spurs at every position throughout the 2013-14 campaign.

Point guard Tony Parker and shooting guard Manu Ginobili are both dinged up and will miss a handful of games to rest for the postseason. Kawhi Leonard made his return against the Detroit Pistons on Feb. 26, and Popovich said the third-year small forward will only be limited by his conditioning, per Mike Monroe of the San Antonio Express-News.

Power forward Matt Bonner has been wearing a protective mask. Aron Baynes, his counterpart, was unavailable for a few games. Additionally, center Tiago Splitter missed 16 outings during a 20-game stretch.

With all that said, the injuries are almost overcome. According to Dan McCarney, also of the Express-News, Parker is expected to return after missing five games, which is much shorter than the original "indefinite" phrasing seemed to implicate.

ESPN and Bleacher Report contributor Matthew Tynan reminded the Twitterverse that the Spurs' key five-man lineup from the 2013 playoff run has barely played together this season.

Yet as of this writing, San Antonio holds the second spot in the West. The Houston Rockets, Los Angeles Clippers and Portland Trail Blazers are battling for the No. 2 spot as well, but two of the Spurs' three best players will come back during the same week.

And as San Antonio nears a roster at full strength, it is hoping the key players can avoid any serious injuries. Why? Because Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder will be a major test against the Spurs' best roster, let alone a shorthanded one.

 

Help Danny Green Find a Rhythm, But Keep Marco Belinelli Rolling

Craig Mitchelldyer-USA TODAY Sports

Expectations concerning Danny Green's shooting ability skyrocketed following his record-breaking NBA finals performance, but that outburst feels like ages ago. However, Green showcased his skills during the series, so the NBA knows what the 2-guard is capable of doing.

This season, the North Carolina product has been far from consistent, only shooting the lights out sporadically. While that's not an optimal scenario by any means, the homer in every San Antonio fan believes the best is yet to come, and that's not a ridiculous thought.

Overall, Green has knocked down just 38.1 percent of his three-point attempts, but he is 44.7 percent from the wings, per NBA.com. Green is still converting at a high rate from his favorite spot, so a hot streak is seemingly imminent.

Nevertheless, as is the yearly beauty with the Spurs, a backup—in this case, Marco Belinellihas voided the struggles of the starter.

Belinelli, of course, has scorched the net from every spot beyond the arc, nailing triples at a career-high 44.7 percent clip. Though the sharpshooting Italian has simmered somewhat, he is routinely scoring in the double digits. Over his last 24 appearances, Belinelli has hit the 10-point mark 21 times, including eight 20-point nights.

Pop relied on Belinelli to play a bigger role during Ginobili's and Leonard's concurring absences, and he stepped up, averaging 31.0 minutes and 13.4 points per night.

As a result of the completely healthy roster, Belinelli will be returning to his off-the-bench role. But the Patty Mills-led reserve unit needs to keep the 2014 Three-Point Contest champion on a roll, because an NBA title may eventually be dependent on his outside stroke.

 

Establish Its Go-to Rotation

Jennifer Stewart-USA TODAY Sports
This February, much-improved point guard Patty Mills has made Jeremy Lin's famous stretch look unimportant, yet he isn't getting the attention.

As highlighted previously, the lineup that dominated the 2013 Western Conference playoffs has played just 137 minutes this season. Familiarity—or team chemistry—is a vital element to a team's success, and the Spurs should have two months to work specific rotations and five-man units onto the floor.

(Note: Recently traded and subsequently bought out small forward Danny Granger could join San Antonio for the stretch run, but that's purely conjecture at this time. For now, assume the Spurs move forward without adding Granger.)

Patty Mills has taken a step toward solidifying a role as the backup point guard for years to come, but more importantly, in 2013-14 the trio of Mills, Ginobili and Belinelli comprise an outstanding reserve backcourt.

Per 82games.com, when paired with Boris Diaw and Jeff Ayres, the unit boasts an outstanding field-goal percentage of 57.9 percent. Conversely, the eFG of the preferred starting lineup is just 44.3 percent. Granted, the advanced metrics from the regular season can mean very little come playoff time, but it doesn't mean San Antonio can throw any ol' lineup on the floor and call it good.

And over the final stretch of the current campaign, Pop and the Spurs will find the most effective rotation for practically every possible scenario.

Including one when they need to grab a single rebound.

 

Note: Unless otherwise noted, stats taken from NBA.com and Basketball-Reference.com and accurate as of Feb. 26, 2014, pre-Detroit Pistons vs. San Antonio.

Follow Bleacher Report NBA Writer David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR.

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